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Nin, Anaïs 1903–1977
Nin, an American novelist, short story writer, and critic, is best known for her diaries. Living in Paris in the 1930s, she became part of several artistic and intellectual circles, where she became acquainted with Antonin Artaud, Henry Miller, and Otto Rank. Her study with Rank, a prominent psychoanalyst, is reflected in both her fiction and her diary, where she explores the power of the subconscious in imagery drawn from dream and myth. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 69-72.)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2087
The intriguing and engaging narrator of Anaïs Nin's Diary has surely earned for herself a place among the great literary creations to appear in this century. Purporting to reveal aspects of her life (and the growth of her sensibilities) in selections from an autobiographical journal, the narrator knows and relates the truth about herself…. The creation and development of this narrator unquestionably attest to the power and skill of Nin, the author, and it is therefore unfortunate that many readers have failed to appreciate the difference between the two. (p. 9)
[The] values and techniques [Nin] employed in her fiction are finely honed for use in the Diary. Psychological authenticity, which lies at the heart of all of Nin's work, is effected in the Diary as in the fiction through the manipulation of symbolism, dreams, and other dramatic devices which generate a sense of immediacy. Similarly, the Diary reveals a fine sense of timing, character development and selection, which Nin initiated and Gunther Stuhlmann aided; as in her fiction, but frequently with sustained concreteness, characters appear and reappear in multiple contexts, while typical of both the fiction and the Diary is the presence of a chief female character who is omnipresent—as a participant or as an observer—and whose development is presented through multiple exposures in a variety of contexts, through her own self-analysis, or through the responses she evokes from the satellite characters around her.
There is, however, one important difference between the material as it is presented in the fiction and as it is presented in the Diary; namely, the presence within the latter of a central consciousness—that of the persona—through whose mind all the characters and incidents are filtered, interpreted, and colored. Every detail she affords us tells us perhaps as much about herself as it does about the person or incident described. In contrast to the situation in Nin's fiction, therefore, narration in the Diary becomes simultaneously self-characterization. Under the appearance of a journal that records real-life situations and individuals, there have, in fact, been gathered a set of compelling "actors" in accordance with the literary principle of point of view. The result is neither fiction in the traditional sense nor diary in the conventional sense but rather something of a new art form—the journal-novel.
It is not difficult to describe the characteristics of the persona in each volume of the Diary; accounting for the narrator's development and the changes in her characterization, however, may be more problematic…. The thematic truth that lies at the heart of the Diary … is inextricably connected with Nin's conception of the narrator who is compelled to tell her tale, and who in so doing becomes both the subject (teller) and the object (told about). (pp. 10-11).
[One] of the great irritations to some is that the Diary leaves out, it seems, as much as it contains. As in some of Nin's novels, a portion of the context is missing or is deleted. But the enjoyment, the wonder, the pleasure, and the surprize of the persona all seem to be present, and the richness of life is felt even if it is not described in detail. The scenes between the narrator and June [from Volume 1 (1931–1934)] are masterpieces of literary control; Nin's sensitivity to diction here is at its most delicate and discerning. None of Nin's works of fiction has a greater unity than this progress of the Diary's heroine in her first public appearance…. The persona is depicted as a questor who moves steadily toward levels of self-realization, and in Volume I it is as though each character she encounters somehow contributes to this quest.
However, the strength of Volume I is also its weakness. The character of the persona seems incomplete, unrounded—perhaps unreal. Certainly the narrator is relatively flawless. We soon realize, in fact, that she is depicted as the one who is needed, a kind of savior, and not merely one who needs…. This motif, which is developed even more clearly in Volume II, begins to emerge when the diarist observes that she always loses her "guide halfway up the mountain, and he becomes [her] child."… (p. 12)
Many motifs, themes and characters reappear in [Volume II] which covers the years 1934–1939. But because the advent of war dominates the scene here, this volume has both a political and social context that is lacking in Volume I. During these years the narrator develops significantly as a writer and forms close and important literary associations…. (pp. 12-13)
Simultaneously, the narrator cultivates her image as nurturer and protectress—a pattern of self-characterization that echoes Volume I. She continues to be introspective….
And yet, the narrator herself seems more incomplete than ever, and Anaïs Nin, the author, is not unmasked, nor we feel, was meant to be. The persona is busily engaged with the rites of more self-analysis. (p. 13)
The narrator's vision of the artist transforming the world constructively is a view that she clings to. On the personal level as well as on the cosmic scale, the function of the artist is a beneficial one, and above all, the persona is characterized as one who maintains these values in her personal relationships as well as in her own ideology, which she is forced to create. It may seem like a role that attracts too much self-aggrandizement, and some find it obnoxious because of the unreal consistent nobility with which the narrator characterizes herself or allows others to do for her….
With an agreeable symmetry, not unlike its predecessors, Volume III begins with difficulty and dislocation (also true of Volumes I and II), but ends with success and acceptance—true in Volume I, but only generally so in Volume II…. The persona progresses in a logical fashion: the literary initiate of the first volume, who chooses art in the second, becomes the maverick and determined devotee of her own vision in the third volume. (p. 14)
Volume III, however, lacks a continuity that the first two volumes contain. Most of the characters introduced in this volume hold interest for the reader, but some seem superfluous. The narration seems for the first time broken at times, slightly desperate if not shrill. The narrator's problems and friendships are not always so engaging as the nature of her literary achievement. (p. 15)
Although the details and emphases have changed, basically Anaïs Nin's depiction of the persona does not shift significantly in the first three volumes: generous, industrious, ambitious, respected by a core of admirers, the narrator pursues her vision of the feminine perception in her own unique kind of fiction. She does not reject psychoanalysis, but subordinates it to her art and vision. But the fully developed, human narrator, portrayed in her weaknesses and vulnerability, has yet to appear. The narrator in Volume III remains a literary creation, not a live human being. The author's defenses, it would seem, are still up.
The fourth volume, covering the years 1944–1947, represents to some degree the legacy earned from the years of the early 1940's. More fragmented than any earlier volume, it is not, however, weak or uninteresting, and contains some of Nin's finest and most poignant observations about life and literature. A number of familiar themes appear: the narrator continues to be concerned about her own artistic and psychological development, conscious of the restrictions imposed by guilt and neurosis, sensitive to those aspects of her existence which seem healthy and life-giving. Her literary life—printing, writing fiction—receives some fascinating attention here; her gravitation toward the young and her disappointment in the "mature" is dealt with in some detail. A strong sense of humanism emerges in this volume, a clear articulation—through the persona—of a vision of how life may be lived in an integrated fashion.
The sense or need of a persona—shall we say the author's?—also seems less urgent in Volume IV. For the first time the narrator does not have to succeed: she has succeeded. She is not fully rounded yet, but the heroics lie further in the background than ever before…. The authenticity and deep sincerity of key passages are impressive, and signify the increased development of a persona who seems human and alive.
It thus seems that the further Nin carried her open-ended Diary, the more comfortable she became in allowing for a free and open narrator, in place of the narrower persona who seemed to be created with specific roles and images in mind. Expansion, fulfillment and evolution become a manifestation of the narrator's success and acceptance as a fiction writer and lecturer; the dream has become reality. For Nin, the dream, if lived out, provided for more abundant life; but the dream could also become a tragic trap, for to live within the dream and not to bring it into reality could lead to disaster. (pp. 15-16)
The fifth volume, which covers the years 1947–1955, is far different from the first four, and is more fragmented and less sustained even than Volume IV. Although familiar themes reappear—sympathy, analysis, fiction writing, travel—no clear focus emerges and no clear theme is developed. It contrasts most strikingly with a work like Volume I, with its dramatic and engaging characterizations that are developed in great detail. The incoherence of Volume V in fact mirrors the incoherence of the narrator's life at this time; more than in any other volume, the persona here is less stylized and artificial…. In all its fragmentation, it may well be that Volume V, edited carefully, stands as a masterpiece of organic form, imaging in its structure (with short, undeveloped passages) the disconnected nature of the narrator's life. It may have been at this time that Nin chose to redirect her characterization of the persona toward something less glamorous, less dramatic than she appeared in earlier volumes. (p. 17)
The sixth volume of the Diary, covering the years 1955–1966, contains more pages, deals with more years, and has far more balance and structure than earlier volumes. Some will say that it cannot rival the first two contributions to the series, which detail Nin's relationship with her literary associates in Paris; and yet Volume VI brings to the reader a narrator who is more open and relaxed than before. "I have decided to retire as the major character of this diary."… The openness of the disclosure … is characteristic of the tone of the volume; the persona retires quietly in the background and the mood is at times relaxed. The narrator does not have to center the attention on herself, and when she speaks she seems to be candid and confident…. It might be said, in fact, that the diary itself now acquires the centrality and focus which the narrator is willing to abdicate. (p. 18)
[The Diary], in all its six volumes, details the movement of its narrator, from her first entrances into serious literary composition, through various successes and failures (of virtually every variety), until she finds the true voice that a readership in the United States wants to hear. The persona, created in many ways as a conventional literary heroine, increases in human qualities approximately midway through the narrative and in the final volume is most humanely realized and most fully human of all; narcissism and self-aggrandizement give way to a more balanced self-portrait, one that admits weaknesses along with strengths. As a character in this drama, the narrator becomes more and more unmasked; but we are never certain whether in the process the author also does or not, and we must not assume that the narrator is ever identical with Nin or an accurate representation of her, were such a representation possible.
The legendary Diary has, of course, become famous partly because—ironically as the result of the excellence of Nin's art—the narrator seems so "real": she develops; the complexities and nuances of her feelings are explored, and she finally succeeds in her attempt to arrive at a point in her life where she is both accepted and accepting. But the protagonist of the Diary is a literary creation, and our awareness of this fact, far from detracting from the quality, value, and interest of the Diary, should serve only to enhance our appreciation of Nin's—the author's—humanism and her powers of articulation. (p. 19)
Duane Schneider, "Anaïs Nin in the Diary: The Creation and Development of a Persona," in MOSAIC: A Journal for the Study of Literature and Ideas (copyright © 1978 by the University of Manitoba Press; acknowledgement of previous publication is herewith made), Vol. XI, No. 2 (Winter, 1978), pp. 9-19.
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A maternal figure at times, [Nin] encouraged, for example, both Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller; especially Miller, whom she supported financially for some time as well as encouraging his writing. Many other young writers were helped by her in various ways at various times. Although a wealthy woman by Parisian left-bank standards, she sometimes found herself committed to spending more than she had available. It was on such an occasion that the stories in Delta of Venus were written.
The request was made by a wealthy old man to Henry Miller for some stories which "cut out the poetry and concentrated on sex". Telling Anaïs Nin about this, Miller explained that writing such stories would be against his integrity and asked her to write them for him. What about her own integrity, she asked; but Miller did not appear to think that this mattered, so—as the money was urgently needed to pay the rents of her various pensioners—she did so. The style of the stories is so different from that of Nin's normal work that I suspect Miller to have taken a large share in the actual writing, but no one else has ever suggested anything of the kind….
Although most of the stories [in Delta of Venus] are just frankly aimed at sexual titillation, there is occasionally a seasoning of dry humour evident. The first story contains an account of a beautifully made rubber woman, with each aperture serviceable, which some sailors found the perfect mistress but which gave them all syphilis. But even the unnamed person who paid for the stories in the first place only read one at a time at intervals; read continuously, as they must be by a reviewer, they become boring.
J. S. Atherton, "The Maternal Instinct," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London), 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 7, 1978, p. 756.
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"Linotte" is the name [Anaïs Nin] gives herself as she signs letters to her father, Joaquin Nin, the Spanish composer and pianist. It is an old-world term for "finch" or linnet, and traditionally in French it means "scatterbrain," a girl with foolish ideas. Often at the end of a passage, especially one full of conflicts, contradictions and impossible dreams, Anaïs characterizes herself in that way. If she is writing directly to her father, she habitually ends by apologizing for her ideas of a "linotte."
The diary is almost a continuous letter to her father…. The purpose in writing these daily episodes in the letters is to reconvert the distant father to his family, to urge him to rejoin them in New York, and to stress her own longing for him….
This early diary anticipates the reconciliation later in France (told in Volume I of the "Diary"), and the passionate love she established at that time with her father. It will be obvious to most readers that this paternal relationship is the basis of Anaïs Nin's attitude toward men and toward love….
Young Anaïs herself is fascinated by the role of the diary in her life, as she feels herself torn between two worlds: the one in which she lives day by day, and that same world as it is transmuted into her diary sentences. Already she is aware of what the act of writing means for her. This act she will call in the first volume of the "Diary" her "drug," and her dreams she will call her "real life."…
Her personal development is discussed in her relationship with her childhood diary as much as in her relationship with family and friends. The writing in the diary propels her into what later in her life she will call her inner truth, that truth she learns about herself and about others.
This diary will be a document useful to Anaïs Nin's ever-growing public of readers … eager to study her art as novelist as well as her art as diarist. The notebooks, as they accumulated one after the other, became a symbol of the girl's isolation and withdrawal as she moved out of psychic puberty into the initial stage of adulthood.
The psychoanalyst-critic will be struck by the doubts she expresses, more and more frequently, of her sexual attractiveness. She tends toward an identification with her mother, Rosa Culmell-Nin, whose energy, courage and constancy Anaïs celebrates uninterruptedly. Behind this celebration, and usually unexpressed, is the father's abandonment of her mother and the sexual implication of that act. The more purely literary critic will notice the absence of the roster of characters that we have seen in Volume I of the "Diary": Artaud, Dr. Allendy, Otto Rank, Henry Miller, June Miller. He will be impressed, however, by the large number of portraits, characters young and old, that fill so many of the pages of the childhood diary, and above all, the portrait of the girl Anaïs, omnipresent throughout as participant and observer.
Wallace Fowlie, "The Girlhood of Anaïs Nin," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 13, 1978, p. 11.
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Anaïs Nin's diary served as her mirror, her confidant, the only place where she was truly herself and scrupulously honest about even unpleasant truths. For those who are fascinated by every word of this ultimate diarist, [Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1914–1920] will no doubt prove an invaluable addition to the adult works, but for those less enamored, it can make uncomfortable reading. Perhaps it should have been left a mirror to oblivion, for its pages read like an unwitting exposure of a young girl's infatuation with extremes of feeling and with her own self-image as a suffering "dreamer"….
The mature writer's control and power are rarely in evidence; here the emphasis is on the intensity of her feelings rather than on the intensity with which the reader experiences what she describes….
It is interesting to compare the extreme subjectivity of this early diary with the relish for concrete detail apparent in the later ones but Linotte is worth reading more for its interest as an apprentice work than for its intrinsic value. (p. E6)
Nancy Pepper, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), October 29, 1978.
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By nature sensitive, introspective, and emotional, this intense and gifted young girl pours out [in Linotte: The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin 1914–1920] the manic-depressive roller-coastering of adolescence in her daily tryst with her one friend, her diary. Arriving in an unfamiliar country, abandoned by the father whose love she craves, she tosses her crystalline, childlike impressions into a whirlpool of blossoming adulthood….
This amazingly precocious diary offers clearsighted evaluations of herself, already the analyst of dreams and feelings we encounter in her adult journals….
It's also a portrait of the developing young writer. She justifies the attraction her journal has: it's not only "unbounded egotism," she remarks perceptively, but a strainer, serving her love of truth and "a way of acting as my own teacher."…
[The volume's] special charm lies in the heartfelt outpourings of the girl-to-woman experiences of this sensitive soul. On the threshold of adulthood, she bids a wry farewell to this, her best friend, "… it looks as though nothing 'thrilling' is going to happen. I shall nickname you simply the Preface to the wonderful contents of another volume." And it is!
Carla Waldemar, "Nin's Preface to a Life's Work," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1978 by The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), November 1, 1978, p. 17.